Alcatraz & a bit of Disney magic

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The holiday has continued as my wife and I now find ourselves in San Francisco. And the first thing we see on day one in the US? This picture!

Our last few days in Canada included an amazing fireworks display,whale watching, and meeting up with an old university friend rather unexpectedly!

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We spent one day in Seattle before flying here early Sunday morning. Seattle was a bit odd, as we were only there 24 hours, but highlights included the Space Needle, some amazing glass blowing and the best supermarket freezer ever (see the picture at the bottom!)

Although arriving in what initially appeared an interesting neighbourhood, I’ve really enjoyed San Francisco, not surprisingly for its history. To please my better half, we started at the Walt Disney Museum. I expected a typical “Disney” experience, so was surprised to encounter something very different. It literally focused on Walt Disney, the man, and his life. This was fascinating. Many people misinterpret the infamous Donald Duck cartoon “Der Führer’s Face” to suggest that Walt was a Nazi sympathiser. To learn of his involvement in WWI as an underage ambulance driver, and the way in which he ran Walt Disney Studios during WWII, it’s clear that nothing could be further from the truth. To also learn of his failed company “Laugh-O-Grams”, the extent to which Mickey Mouse’s ‘Steamboat Willie’ was groundbreaking, and just how crucial ‘Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs’ was to Walt’s financial success kept a geeky historian interested throughout!

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We also took a cruise around the San Francisco bay. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit Alcatraz as it was all booked up, but the tour spoke of both the Rock and Angel Island’s history (and I also got this years key ring for my school keys!) It was interesting to learn how correction officer’s families lived on Alcatraz (even travelling back from school on the same ferry as new inmates!) and how Angel Island was the West’s version of New York’s Ellis Island, where Asian immigrants were cruelly locked up until they could prove they deserved residency in the US.

There’s one thing that all these attractions had in common though. Walt Disney’s original plans for Disneyland & EPCOT worried many around him, who thought they would be white elephants- left to rot once the interest waned. But both sites have evolved over time to ensure they stay relevant. No inmate or immigrant can be found at Alcatraz or Angel Island today, but both are major tourist attractions that provide educational & economical benefits.

It’s another reason I love history- landmarks may change over time, but their historical legacy often remains intact. A lot has been made of London’s Olympic venues, and whether they too will be ‘white elephants’. Of course we don’t know, but regardless of their future, their legacy will remain. To learn of their developments are important for both local and global audiences. It helps us put visual pictures to our stories, and understand the world we live in today- and as I’ve said before, this is one of history’s most important assets.

So anyway- the holiday continues into Yosemite National Park tomorrow, and onto the Nevada desert! Cue amusing picture!

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